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"John should have been offered the job."

What is exactly said here? I can think of two ways:

1) Lamenting on what didn't happen. "John is very good for this position. John is better than that guy that has been offeredthe job. So John should have been offered the job."

2) Speculating on the unknown. "We don't know who has been offered the job. Everyone has to keep it in secret. But I know that John is ideal for this position, so John should have been offered the job."

  • 3
    Is there any more context? Option 1 seems more likely to me, but it could potentially be either. – Tyler James Young Dec 10 '13 at 18:08
  • No context. I'm interested in the general meaning. – Graduate Dec 10 '13 at 18:12
  • Good for you insisting that there is no context. In the absence of context, we have to take the thing as it is and shoot at it from all angles. And all angles here means that it is either a comment on what didn't happen, or a speculation. The comment can be a lament, but doesn't have to be; it could simply be a statement made to raise the question of why some expected event didn't happen. E.g. "Your broken arm should have healed by now." (But since we know that it hasn't, maybe there is something unusually wrong: maybe you have a non-union fracture.) – Kaz Dec 14 '13 at 0:57
  • I.e "John should have been offered the job" (Too bad he hasn't!). Or "John should have been offered the job" (So why isn't that the case?) – Kaz Dec 14 '13 at 1:45
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Both interpretations are valid, but the first is more likely.

As you indicate, the context would make it clear: if it is known that John has not been offered the job, then the first meaning is the only sensible one. If, on the other hand, it is not known whether John has the job then it should be interpreted as having the second meaning.

If this context is not known, the first meaning is more likely as it is a common expression for indicating discontent with a decision: 'this should have been so' (but it is not).

For speculating, I think it would be more common to say, 'I expect John was offered the job' or, 'It's probable John that was offered the job'. Saying, 'John should have been offered the job,' would have the same meaning, though.

  • Well, to quibble and/or clarify, if you don't know who was offered the job, and you say, "John should have been, etc", I would understand that to mean that you think John is the better candidate. The difference between the knowing and not knowing cases are that in the knowing case, you're saying that this was not the way it happened but you wish it was; in the not knowing case, you're saying you don't know what happened but this is what you wish or hope did or will happen. – Jay Dec 10 '13 at 21:11
  • @Jay I agree, but I think the question covers that important distinction. – Sepia Dec 11 '13 at 0:15
  • That's why I said "quibble and/or clarify". I thought it might be possible that that was being lost. – Jay Dec 11 '13 at 17:27
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Neither. The word 'should' implies a moral judgement, in this case likely a judgement about justice. 'John should have gotten the job' usually means 'It is not fair that John did not get the job. He deserved it'.

The lamentation option is possible, but exceedingly unlikely in the manner described. The typical use relies on the meaning of 'gotten' which is more active and implies that John (not a hiring agency) was responsible for not getting the job. "John should have gotten the job. Then we'd have food right now."

Note that in the latter case, again, you can see how the word 'should' implies a kind of judgement-- not getting the job was the wrong choice.

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